Saturday, December 24, 2011

OccupyLA 6

     With uncharacteristic adroitness, Chief Charlie Beck had his LAPD troops clear the park around City Hall of the Occupy Wall Street/LA encampment. Starting around seven o’clock, on the night of November 29-30, uniformed police began assembling at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, adjacent to the Police Academy. As reported on the local news, a small fleet of Metro buses carried the 1400 law enforcers down the hill to the area around the park. Wearing their riot helmets, with visors up, the police moved in around 10:30 pm. Scores of police emerged from the south entrance of City Hall about 1 am, clearing the steps and lawn around the plaza. The park was surrounded and cut off, sealing occupiers inside, preventing supporters from entering.
     The police and Occupiers held their ground for about an hour, the police repeating their order to clear the area and disperse. The Occupiers chanted, arms linked, sitting in the plaza, observed by the approved media pool and supporters kept at a distance by the police line. At 2 am the arrests began. Occupiers were cuffed in plastic and put on the buses for transport to booking and jail. According to reports given to Carol Sobel (ACLU) and Jim Lafferty (NLG), people were left on the buses for up to seven hours, in restraints, without water or access to toilets, and were forced to soil themselves.
     After the media left and live coverage ended, incidents of police assaulting Occupiers were reported. Some 280 people were arrested and charged with failing to obey police orders, a misdemeanor, but were held on $5000 bail, an outrageous abuse of judicial power. Eventually, bail was reduced and most were released on their own recognizance after a day or two.
     The park is now fenced, the debris cleared. The General Assembly continues to meet on the west side, four times a week. Committees continue to function. Actions will continue, including occupations to prevent evictions of families and marches in support of labor. People in the #OWS movement seem to be saying pretty much the same thing in the wake of the police actions that swept the country. The occupation of public space is not the point, but talking about jobs, fairness, democracy and a decent society is what it’s about. The goal for now appears to be to reach out into the communities, to educate and “broaden the base” of the movement, to form stronger alliances among students, labor, the immigrant community and the Green movement.
     When I visited the encampment (on the anniversary of the JFK assassination), I didn’t think I’d get to return. That same Tuesday evening, the City announced the park would be closed and cleared Sunday night, the 27th. The police did show up, but so did several thousand citizens. The police left, and the Occupation resumed, but the tension remained. So, on Tuesday afternoon, I went back one more time. As the pictures I took show, much of the encampment had departed, people removing what they feared the police would destroy. The stalwarts who remained had no doubt that the police would come, soon, to remove them. They were ready to resist, non-violently, and go to jail. As it turned out, the police did come that night, and the people I talked to did go to jail.
     The movement is going into its next phase. Occupations will continue, here and there, as strategy dictates. They can’t evict an idea. The teachable moment continues.
December 8-10
Eagle Rock

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nov.29/ The day after LAPD didn't raid OccupyLA

"Last night was like a big party! Thousands of people came, and when the police showed up... no way they were gonna stop the music!"

"We know they're gonna come back to clear us out, just not when."

A tree house under construction.
Citizens wait and keep vigil.

Tree house near the main public entrance on the south plaza.

"We're working on adding another couple floors..."

Indigenous people's prayer space.

"About half the people here left. Not all of us can get arrested just now, but we'll be here when the raid comes."

Nap time inside Kid Village.

A few tents remain on the fringes.

Most Occupiers on the north lawn moved to the south side.


... and the last word....

OccupyLA 5

    It appears my last walk around the OccupyLA encampment may have been my last walk. The front page of today’s LA Times reports that the City is about to close the park, to protect the lawn and the safety of the occupiers. The people in the park have said they will stay, and resist eviction without violence. They have declined to cooperate or negotiate further until ten conditions are addressed.  Go to the website to read the statement. There are regular communiques posted, as well as transcripts of the General Assembly.     
    Yesterday, Tuesday, I went to visit the encampment again. It‘s been about three weeks since I was able to get down there, though I’ve been trying to follow things on line. The site was crowded with tents and there were scores of people around. As I walked around for the next two hours, I talked with a number of people about the encampment. Overall, spirits remain high despite the problems inherent in the situation. Several hundred people living together with minimal infrastructure (primitive camping conditions) are bound to meet some difficulties.
    As I walked into the site, a knot of people were gathered in front of the Wellness tent. Most were trying to see what was happening, snapping pictures with cell phones, as loud canine yelps came from under the huddle of humans. Apparently, a couple dogs had gotten into a fight, and this one was badly hurt. I moved away and continued on to the plaza and the steps on the south side. This is the largest open area around City Hall. Most activity at the encampment seems to begin here: announcements, food service, General Assemblies, marches, etc. A man with a megaphone was announcing a teach-in on the Federal Reserve, followed by a march at four to the LA Fed nearby.
    There are four paths into the plaza, rays converging at the steps up to the building. A few paces along the path, past the meditation tent, brought me to Kid Village. It looked pretty rough&tumble, sheets and tarps stretched over cord wrapped round palm trees, highlighted with bungees. It created a secluded space within a circle of tents, enough for a dozen children to be comfortably cared for. A six foot banquet table was stacked with beverage containers, cartons of fruit and boxes of granola bars. More behind the table, with general supplies you’d find at a spartan daycare center, a few women talking as I stepped inside.
    “May I come in?”
    “I’m sorry, but…” one of the women began.
    “He’s okay,” said another, “he’s one of the good guys. I’ve seen him here before.”
    I thanked her and we talked about what was happening in the space. At the moment, one child was full-time, living in Kid Village, being home-schooled by a teacher also living on-site. A couple more children came regularly for the afternoon, but the “boom time” was on the weekends. I could see evidence of art and craft activities, hand-made toys, an altar, but no kids. Then, a high, tentative query, “Mom?” came from the tent beside me, and one of the women disappeared inside. I thanked them and found my way out.
    Going back through the plaza I happened upon a small black tent, decked out in Star Wars ornaments. I took it to be an installation, or sculpture. Its presence there made me smile, but it did cause a twinge of malaise. On the hillside a few steps on, there was a roped off area, decorated with stones, shells, gourds and feathers, by the Indigenous People’s Justice group. As I stood there, a young woman appeared, leading a small group of people. She seemed to be guiding them around the Occupation, like a tour-guide.
    In their wake I came to a table under a tent where a big banner proclaimed “End Foreclosures!” The man I talked with behind the table had a pretty loose idea of what the demand meant, but his friend, seated on a bicycle, was quite articulate.
    “They manipulate the market,” he began. “How they do that? First they break Glass-Stiegal so banks can speculate. Then they rig the credit game and get the Fed to lower the prime.”
    “So how does that get us here?” asked the big man in the chair.
    “Look, when money is cheap, you borrow and pay less interest. And, since everything just gets more expensive, it makes sense to buy it now. Right?” said the guy with the bicycle. “So, your bank tells you that you can take a second mortgage on your home at this incredible rate, AND your home has increased in value since you bought it!
    “Now what does that mean? If you are the lender, you have created a money stream into your assets column. If you are the consumer, the borrower, you have created a money leak, losing equity as the housing market and stock market collapse. Follow me?”
    “Okay,” I said, picking up the thread, “so with the government backing the lenders and the regulators on the take, these loans were bundled and sold, with insurance, to banks around the world. As more and more borrowers failed to pay, banks began to fail and the insurance underwriters weren’t able to cover the losses.”
    “That’s when the bail-out happened,” said the big guy.
    “Right. Tax payers save the banks and the banks say thank you by foreclosing on their homes. That’s how we got here.”
    “I hope the Occupation can make that a demand,” I said pointing at the banner. We talked a bit more and I continued my tour.
 *                                             *
     Across the street on the east side, mobile units from the local TV stations were parked, waiting for a press conference to begin. On the north side lawn, tents were less densely pitched. The library was in a stage of recovery after the rain and wind of the weekend. A couple men were sorting and shelving the books, optimistic about the improved library-to-come. They directed me up the slope to the artists‘ area on the corner. The young people there reminded me a little of our cohort in the 60s, the Sherwood Forest Collective. We often had more energy and passion than good sense, and there was something familiar here as I talked with them. The silkscreen images and day-glow colors were nostalgic, as were the clothes. I don’t know what I expected, but it was disappointing to find little more than buttons, discarded posters and souvenir t-shirts on display.
    The narrow patches of lawn on either side of the west entrance are still covered with tents and clusters of Port-a-potties and trash bins. A young woman was sitting in front of the main entrance, meditating. A few yards away, an older man sat in a folding chair, speaking into a microphone held by a young woman. Finishing my circuit, I reentered the encampment and found my way through the plaza to the food tent.
    The young woman there smiled, recognized me from my earlier visits, and introduced me as “an outside activist occupier.” Didn’t I blush? She introduced me to the two young men sitting on a stack of sacks of grains. They were the camp cooks, resting after a day of making and serving food. I learned that the food was being prepared at a church in Pasadena, and offered to help on the weekend. Unfortunately, they weren’t sure about the name of the church or schedule…. As we talked, a woman with a shopping cart full of bags of dog food appeared and began portioning the kibble into baggies. As she pointed out, “Dogs have to eat too.”
    On my way past the Street Theatre tents, I learned that the people had gone to Venice, for an action. Snaking through the tents I reached the Welcome tent, behind the sidewalk Metro bench. A large dry chalkboard propped against a table listed hour-by-hour meetings and gatherings. Another listed materials and resources needed. Four or five people circulated behind the banquet tables and the makeshift shelving under the tent, talking across the tables or into cell phones. I noted that at noon there had been a non-violence training workshop.
    As I stood there, someone rushed in, “Two guys over there, with sticks,” pointing, panting. Three of the men behind the table dashed toward the scuffle, one with his cell phone recording. It appeared to be an accident, a tall man with wiry red hair was twirling his staff when a short dark-haired man inadvertently walked into the baton. Both men seemed to be “off their meds.”  I turned on the big guy and asked him, “You hurt?” He shook his head, no, and I waved him away. The other men had surrounded the injured party who really wanted to use his pepper spray on someone, but he calmed down and went away after a few minutes.
    The two hour tour had tired me, and I still had a couple blocks up hill to the Red Line. I made a mental salute to my comrades and left.
23 November 2011
Eagle Rock